This came in the mail
The source is here http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/sf/disney.html
Is the most recent Disney video from the early '90s more of the same?
"The Disney-Von Braun Collaboration and Its Influence on Space Exploration"
Marshall Space Flight Center Historian
Note: The following paper was presented by the author in 1993 at the
Southern Humanities Conference entitled
"Inner Space/Outer Space: Humanities, Technology and the Postmodern World." It was later included in
"Selected Papers from the 1993 Southern Humanities Conference," published by Southern Humanities Press in
Huntsville and edited by Daniel Schenker, Craig Hanks, and Susan Kray.
The years after World War II left the American public with an almost
insatiable desire for space-related science fiction. In
countless movies and stories space warriors suited with fish bowl helmets focused their ray guns on creatures from outer space.
According to space historian Walter McDougall, "After V-2s and atomic bombs, any fantasy seemed credible." Perhaps more
important, he says, the public's post-war devotion to science fiction was a "form of cultural anticipation" regarding the coming
space age. <1>
Jules Verne's science fiction had inspired Wernher von Braun when he
was young. Years later, von Braun designed the famous
World War II V-2 rocket for his native Germany, but he also dreamed of developing vehicles that would propel artificial
satellites and men into outer space. In fact, his interest in developing rockets for space exploration, rather than for defense,
angered the Gestapo and led to two weeks in a German prison.<2> As World War II ended, von Braun and other German
rocket experts surrendered to Allied forces and eventually emigrated from Germany to work for the U.S. Army. Initially
assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, the von Braun team was eventually transferred to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. On
January 31, 1958, the von Braun team used a modified Jupiter C rocket to launch Explorer 1, America's first orbiting satellite.
Two years later, von Braun became director of NASA's new George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville where he
and an expanded team would develop the Saturn rockets that launched men to the moon in 1969.
As the 1960s ended, von Braun had realized his dream of exploring outer
space by helping place a human on the moon and
satellite probes to the planets. His engineering and managerial expertise contributed to a technological revolution but his respect
for the power of imagination had changed the way America perceived space exploration much earlier in the 1950s. He believed
that America's devotion to space fiction in the early 1950s could be channeled into interest in space fact. "It was a matter of
synthesizing the philosophical aspects into neat packages and solid statements which the public would buy," according to Erik
Bergaust, von Braun's biographer.<3>
In the early 1950s, Collier's magazine invited von Braun to publish
his vision regarding space exploration. Space historian
Randy Liebermann has explained the significance of the Collier's articles: "After 25 years of continuous and directed thinking
and endless hours of experimentation, von Braun, the world's leading rocket engineer, had the chance to come out of his
sequestered military environment and through a national magazine inform the general public of his detailed blueprint for realizing
manned space travel."<4>
The articles, illustrated by leading space artists, seemed to accomplish
more than any other seriously respected cultural or
artistic medium had done in the early 1950s to suggest that the future of space exploration would emerge indebted to both
science fiction and science fact. At its highest point, Collier's attained a circulation of approximately 4 million and these readers
were excited by von Braun's vision of the future. Even so, there were already more than 15 million television sets in America by
1952 and von Braun recognized that this change in American culture had the potential to fundamentally reshape American past
perceptions.<5> So did Walter Elias Disney who had used film as a powerful medium to entertain and inform Americans since
the 1940s. "Neither Walt Disney nor Dr. von Braun were ever backward in making maximum use of new media for advancing
their ideas: Now was the age of television," said one observer.<6>
Von Braun served as technical advisor on three space-related television
films that Disney produced in the 1950s. Together, von
Braun (the engineer) and Disney (the artist) used the new medium of television to illustrate how high man might fly on the
strength of technology and the spirit of human imagination. According to David R. Smith, Director of Archives at Walt Disney
Productions, von Braun caught the attention of Disney senior producer Ward Kimball. <7> The Collier's series had appeared
about the time that Disney decided to use television to promote Disneyland in California. The theme park would include four
major sections: Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland. Disney producers would incorporate ideas from
Disney fantasy films like Snow White, Pinocchio, and others to promote the first area of the park. The second and third areas
would be built around Davy Crockett and other adventure films. Tomorrowland, however, represented a real challenge. In
response, Kimball contacted von Braun who, according to Smith, "pounced on the opportunity."<8> As a technical consultant
for Disney, von Braun would join Heinz Haber, a specialist in the emerging field of space. medicine, and Willy Ley, a famous
rocket historian.<9> All three space experts had authored the Collier's series. Disney personally introduced the first television
show, "Man in Space," which aired on ABC on March 9, 1955. The objective, he said, was to combine "the tools of our trade
with the knowledge of the scientists to give a factual picture of the latest plans for man's newest adventure." He later called the
show "science factual." The show represented something new in its approach to science. But it also relied on Disney's
trademark animation techniques. <10>
For example, a portion of the show was devoted to explaining basic scientific
principles using an animated bust of Sir Isaac
Newton. In one scene, an animated puppy sneezes and moves backward across a sheet of graph paper to illustrate that for
every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Disney also filled "Man in Space" with stereo-typical images of learning
and science. For example, Disney appears on camera against a bookcase backdrop and introduces producer Ward Kimball
complete with a sketch pencil behind his ear. In turn, Kimball introduces the German scientists whose accents add more style to
the show. Kimball then offers viewers the privilege to go behind the scenes to see the scientists conferring with the Disney
artists. Chalk-talk technical explanations soon break into humorous animation. Haber begins explaining weightlessness in space.
His points are illustrated by a cigar puffing, slightly clad animated character called "homo sapiens extra terrestrialis," whose
movements are set against a graph-like grid. Although the Disney producers employed humor and cartoon animation in the first
part of "Man in Space," von Braun's on-camera segment was much more straightforward. "If we were to start today on an
organized, well supported space program, I believe a practical passenger rocket could be built and tested within ten years," von
Braun said. "Now here is my design for a four-stage orbital rocket ship... First we would design and build the fourth stage and
then tow it into the air to test it as glider... This is the section that must ultimately return the men to the earth safely."<11>
If Disney had chosen to close "Man in Space" after von Braun's brief
lecture on the mechanical relationships between the
weight of the four-stage rocket and the fuel and power requirements for each stage, he would not have achieved his previously
stated objective. Instead, the Disney artists used the tools of their trade to create a dramatic animation sequence illustrating von
Braun's futuristic ideas for a four-stage rocket. The scene takes place at a launch site on a "small atoll of coral islands in the
Pacific where man is dedicated to just one cause--the conquest of space." Against a dark blue pre-dawn sky, search lights
bathe the waiting launch vehicle while sirens sound a warning, and square-jawed technicians study their consoles. "Now man
will bet his life against the unknown dangers of space travel," a narrator reports. <12>
In reality, von Braun's on-camera appearance in "Man in Space" and the
other two films represented only a portion of his
involvement in the actual production of the three shows. Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, who had worked with von Braun since his days in
Germany, also worked for Disney as a technical consultant. According to Stuhlinger, von Braun made sure the Disney artists
built accurate models of the space vehicles for the three shows. "Here von Braun was really on home grounds.... He provided a
wealth of information on technical details, from in-orbit fueling operations down to problems of cooking and eating under
weightlessness," Stuhlinger said. He also recalled the many hours that von Braun devoted to the Disney projects. Von Braun's
official duties for the Army often took him to the West Coast to meet with Jupiter and Redstone contractors. After the
meetings, he and Stuhlinger would go to the Disney studios where they would work into the morning hours with the artists and
The second show in the series also aired in 1955 and was called "Man
and the Moon." It began with an animated sequence
devoted to legends and superstitions regarding the moon, among them the idea that the left hind-foot of a rabbit found in a
graveyard during the dark of the moon will bring good luck.<14> As one reviewer wrote in the New York Times following the
show which aired on December 28, "this is the kind of material that Walt Disney's technicians can devise their brightest graphic
effects and they made the most of it." <15>
An educational brochure published to promote "Man and the Moon," said,
"This film presents a realistic and believable trip to
the moon in a rocket ship - not in some far-off fantastic never-never land, but in the near foreseeable future."<16> Von Braun,
complete with a slide rule in his pocket, narrates a section of the film and describes his ideas for a two-phase trip to the moon.
The first part of the effort would require building a space station. This base would serve as the staging area for the second part
of the trip to the moon. "Our space satellite (station) will have the shape of a wheel measuring 250 feet across. This outside rim
will contain living and working quarters for a crew of 50 men," von Braun said. "Just below the radio and radar antenna is an
atomic reactor. Its heat will be used to drive a turbo generator which supplies the station with electricity."<17>
Disney archivist David Smith noted that von Braun invented a special
space suit for "Man and the Moon" and nicknamed it the
"bottle suit." <18> According to Stuhlinger, the suit resembled a miniature space vehicle with its own atmosphere and rocket
propulsion system along with manipulator arms to accomplish assembly work in orbit.<19> Just as he had done in "Man in
Space," Disney decided to illustrate von Braun's technical concepts. For the second show, however, Disney decided to use live
actors who portray an astronaut crew departing from the space station for their journey around the moon. The drama intensifies
when a meteor strikes the ship, and one astronaut dons a bottle suit to make the repairs. <20>
The final show in the series aired on December 4, 1957, and was entitled
"Mars and Beyond." E.C. Slipher, an astronomer
from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, joined von Braun and Stuhlinger as technical consultants on the film. All three
appeared on camera. The show also included colorful animated accounts of the legend and lore related to Mars. The narrator
introduced the segment featuring von Braun and Stuhlinger by saying, "at the present time an atomic-powered space ship has
been suggested by a leading scientist in the rocket and guided missile field, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger... This atomic electric space
ship features a revolutionary new principle that will make possible the long trip to Mars with only a small expenditure of fuel.''
<21> Again the Disney artists employ dramatic animation to convey Stuhlinger's and von Braun's technical explanations
regarding the 13-month journey to the Red Planet.<22>
An estimated 42 million people saw the first show in the Disney "science
factual" series. <23> Contemporary television critics
responded favorably to all three shows, and they recognized the contributions that von Braun and the other technical advisors
made. "Into it went the thinking of the best scientific minds working on space projects today, making the picture more fact than
fantasy," one reviewer said after seeing "Mars and Beyond."<24> Disney producer Ward Kimball realized all three shows
were headed for success after the first one aired on March 9, 1955. On July 29, 1955, President Eisenhower announced that
the U.S. would launch a small unmanned earth-circling satellite as part of the U.S. participation in the International Geophysical
Year which would be held from July 1957 through December 1958. <25> On August 24, Kimball wrote a letter to von Braun
saying that in order to promote plans for the next show in the series, the Disney studios planned to "ballyhoo" the first show as
an item that contributed to Eisenhower's satellite announcement. <26> In an August 30 letter back to Kimball, von Braun
reacted with astonishment. "For God's sake don't put it that this show triggered the presidential announcement."<27> Kimball
agreed and replied with a letter of apology.<28> Von Braun feared that Kimball's idea might be embarrassing and upset
serious discussions regarding America's future role in space.
In an article published in 1978, David R. Smith, the Disney archivist,
reprinted the correspondence between Kimball and von
Braun.<29> He also published an account from Kimball which stated that on the morning after "Man in Space" aired,
Eisenhower called Disney to compliment him on the show and to request a copy that could be shown to top space-related
officials in the Pentagon.<30> Although it is difficult to verify Kimball's account, the story has gained increased attention in
recent years. For example, one historian has recently used it to illustrate that, contrary to other viewpoints, Eisenhower was not
"hostile to the idea of space exploration or to science in general."<31>
Eisenhower's personal response to the first Disney film is open to debate.
However, "Man in Space," apparently impressed one
high-level Soviet space official. This is indicated by a copy of a September 24, 1955, letter from L. Sedov to F.C. Durant,
President of the International Astronautical Federation. "If the Disney Studios supplies us with one copy of this film on whatever
terms it may put, it will make considerably for the cause of promoting our contact."<32> Erik Bergaust, von Braun's
biographer, called Sedov the "front man for Russian space delegations during the Sputnik era." Bergaust also claims to have
introduced von Braun to Sedov in 1958. <33>
Naturally, many leaders in the emerging American aerospace industry
endorsed the efforts that von Braun and Disney had
made to promote public interest in space exploration. In 1955, the American Rocket Society held its largest-ever regional
meeting in Los Angeles. As part of the entertainment for the meeting, more than 600 persons were invited to tour Disneyland
and participate in a special screening of "Man in Space."<34>
As indicated by von Braun's response to Kimball's plan to relate the
Eisenhower satellite announcement to the first Disney
space show, von Braun wanted to avoid any indication "that I myself through the vehicle of the Disney Studio am trying to get
credit for more than I deserve." <35> Biographer Erik Bergaust has written that von Braun understood the perils of going to the
public for support of the space program: "During the fifties, many people thought of von Braun as some sort of science fiction
hero who for the most part was dreaming of big space conquests and who spent most of his time on Walt Disney television
shows... Some high priests of science were, of course, snobbish enough to frown on all this loud glamour."<36> Another
author has written that the Walt Disney documentaries and the Collier's articles made von Braun a "space nut" or a "space
hero." <37> In 1958, one von Braun supporter lamented "the discouraging spectacle of hard headed and reputable scientists
calling the latest proposal of Dr. Wernher von Braun to send a man 150 miles into space a 'circus stunt.'"<38> Ernst Stuhlinger
acknowledges that von Braun was aware of being criticized for promoting space outside of previously established circles. But
he adds that von Braun's desire to see man travel into space meant convincing scientists, industry, politicians and, in particular,
the public. "He fought on all fronts each in its own language. That was his genius," Stuhlinger said.<39>
In 1965, 10 years after "Man in Space" first aired, von Braun invited
Disney and others involved in the 1950s films to tour the
Marshall Space Flight Center.<40> Von Braun and his employees clearly hoped that the reunion might rekindle Disney's
enthusiasm for space exploration. One Marshall official wrote, "Out of this we would at least establish good will, and maybe (if
we play our cards right) we could get something going that would be of tremendous benefit to MSFC, Apollo, NASA, and the
entire space effort." <41> Von Braun himself wrote that the Disney tour "may easily result in a Disney picture about manned
space flight." <42> On April 13, 1965, Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and other Disney executives visited the Marshall
Center.<43> In an interview with The Huntsville Times, Disney said, "If I can help through my TV shows... to wake people
up to the fact that we've got to keep exploring, I'll do it."<44> In reality, the tour at Marshall and other NASA sites did not
inspire Disney to use the 1950s television series as a model for a new film about space exploration. No doubt, Wernher von
Braun was well qualified to imagine what the show and the future American space program might have looked like if Disney
had chosen to do so.
1. Walter A. McDougall, ...the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History
of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books,
1985) p. 100.
2. Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway III, History of Rocketry
and Space Travel 3d revised ed. (New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1975) p. 108.
3. Erik Bergaust, Wernher von Braun (Washington, D. C.: National Space Institute, 1976) p. 161.
4. Randy Liebermann, "Wernher von Braun and Collier's Magazine's Man
in Space Series," 37th Congress of the International
Astronautical Federation, Innsbruck, Austria, October 4-11, 1986.
5. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1990 ed. s.v. Collier's", s.v. "Television."
6. Adrian Perkins, "The 1950's, A Pivotal Decade," Spaceflight, July/August 1983, p. 323.
7. David R. Smith, "They're Following Our Script: Walt Disney's Trip
to Tomorrowland," Future, May 1978, p. 55. Mr.
Smith's article represents the best overall account of the three Disney space-related films. Randy Liebermann also presents an
excellent account of the films in an essay entitled "The Collier's and Disney Series" in Frederick I. Ordway III and Randy
Liebermann eds. Blueprint for Space: Science Fiction to Science Fact (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution
Press, 1992) pp. 135-146.
10. The author is grateful to the Walt Disney Company for the opportunity
to borrow copies of all three Walt Disney films
mentioned in this paper. The material cited in this section of the paper is from the film "Man in Space." Some of the material
cited in latter portions of the paper is from the film "Man and the Moon," and from the film "Mars and Beyond."
11. "Man in Space."
13. Ernst Stuhlinger, oral history interview by Mike Wright, December 17, 1992, Huntsville, Alabama.
14. "Man and the Moon."
15. J.P. Shanley, New York Times, December 29, 1955, p. 41.
16. The material cited here is from a brochure describing the Disney
film, "Man and the Moon." The text was prepared by the
Division of Audio-Visual Education, Los Angeles County Schools.
17. This is from the film, "Man and the Moon.'
18. Smith, p. 60.
19. Stuhlinger Interview.
20. "Man and the Moon"
23. Willy Ley, Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel (New York, The Viking Press, 1961), p. 331.
24. TV Guide, March 5,1955, p.9
Comments on this article
And Now, (with apologies to Paul Harvey)
The Rest Of The Story!!!! !!!! !!!!
Seeing this history of Disney's involvement with NASA and von
Braun, and especially the mention of Ward Kimball brought back
memories of 20 years ago. Although many people heard, perhaps
few remember (or are around to say) what Ward Kimball told the
MUFON symposium in 1979 (I think; or 1978 if not 1979).
I met Kimball in 1980. I was at his house. I saw his tremendous
collection of model trains... that filled a litte building in
back of his house. Kimball was not satisfied with toy trains,
however, He also had a REAL TRAIN (engine and coal car) and
about 500 ft of track. He told me that back in the good old days
(fifties, sixties) when he had parties at his house in Beverly
Hills that he and Walt and the boys would get up a head of steam
in that old engine, shove into forward, and scream along the
track until the slammed on the brakes, stopping jus short of the
end of the track. Fun.
Probably a lot of people about the train. Probably not as many
knew about his collection of UFO books, magazines, etc. Yes, the
untold story: Ward Kimball, production director (?) of
Cinderella, promoter of the NASA-Disney connection, etc. Good
Old Ward was a UFO Buff!
You may wonder how I, a commoner, would happen to know Mr.
Kimball. Well, to make a log story short, when the Fund for UFO
Research was founded in 1979 we scoured the world... sort of...
for big names to be on the National Board of Directors. One of
our major supporters knew Ward and suggested that he might be
interested, so she arranged for me to meet him. That's how I got
to his house. That's how he became one of the original 10
members of the National Board of FUFOR. (Resigned many years
But, this isn't the Rest Of The Story! Not by a long shot. The
rest of the story about the NASA-Disney connection was told by
Ward to the slavering MUFON masses in 1979 (or 78). Ward told us
about the Disney-DOD connection,. Yes, that DOD... Department of
Defense... and the Disney-UFO connection... yes, that UFO!
Please allow me to recite as best I can what was the core of the
information provided by Ward Kimball over 20 years ago.
Sometime in the latter 50's (probably 57, 58) Walt Disney was
contacted by the Air Force and asked if he would be willing to
o a movie on... (gulp) UFOs! According to Kimball, the Air Force
promised to provide Disney with film footage he could use in
(History note: the first UFO documentary wasthe Green-Rouse
film, Unidentified Flying Objects, in 1955 or 56. There had been
many Science Fiction movies about aliens during the 1950s
and, of course, virtually everyone was familiar with the term and
many people had had sightings. [The NASA-Disney article by
Michael Wright mentioned the "load" of science fiction after
WWII, but says nothing about the UFO sightings.]
The official Air Force position was that there was nothing to
it, and this was echoed by the newsmedia. But everyone had heard
about the sightings over Washignton, DC and throughout the
country in 1952. And then there was Sputnik in the fall of 1957
and soon after the dog, Liaka, was orbiting the earth in a
Russian spacecraft. Everyone was looking up and thinking "far
out" (along with Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, etc.) The
article by Michael Wright, to which I am responding, discusses
three documentaries done for NASA by Disney. Hence, if the AF
were to decide to "spill the beans" and "come clean", Disney
wuld be a valuable aid in getting information across to the
Kimball told us that Disney began the process of creating a
documentary about UFOs and aliens. Once again he turned his
animators loose to think creatively about what the aliens might
look like. At the same time he waited for the film. But then
after some period of time (half a year maybe?) the Air Force
said there would be no Air Force UFO film. Disney cancelled the
project, but by this time a lot of animated film of "creatures"
had been completed by his artists.
So Disney went ahead and made a short "documentary" anyway,
featuring Jonathan Winters impersonating various "characters"
associated with typical UFO lore. Kimaball SHOWED THIS MOVIE at
the MUFON Symposium. He may have said that it was the only time
the film had been shown publicly!
I specifically recall Mr. Winters as an old lady/grandmother who
saw a UFO and reported it... then he portrayed the Air Force
officer who investigated the sightings and offered
explainations. He also portrayed a little boy in a room who had
a telescope looking up at the stars and, to the little boy's
amazement, an alien came through thetelescope into his room (I
think I've got this right). Of course the boys father didn't
believe that story. (INcidently, Winters. too was interested in
Well, folks, that the rest of the story as it won't appear in
the standard history... probably because standard historians
don't know anything about it. I wish I could remember more.
Kimball probably talked for half an hour before showing the
ten or fifteen minute movie. I don't know what may have
happened to the movie. After I visited Kimball at his house
I never saw nor heard from him again.
From: Stan Friedman
I appreciate Bruce bringing up the Ward Kimball story.
It was at the Saturday Night program of the July, 1979, MUFON
Symposium in San Francisco. Kimball spoke first, then Allen
Hynek, and then me. Ward also noted that after being promised
footage with nothing being delivered, he spoke with a USAF
Colonel. The latter told him that there indeed was plenty of UFO
footage, but that neither Ward, nor anybody else, was going to
get access to it.
I should add that I have recently been told that the late Dr.
Hans Nieper, a rather remarkable German Physician, has told
people that Von Braun told him that indeed aliens and flying
saucers were real.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .